The food industry is going to see some major shifts in 2018. Advancements like CRISPR-edited foods, new forms of protein and vertical farming — though still in their infancy — are here to stay. It’s easy to feel threatened by the barrage of new technologies, new food developments, and new distribution models on the horizon. But food brands have an opportunity this year to positively influence the future – if only we embrace it.

To start, the industry will need to give food safety and quality systems room to adapt quickly. Upgrading old infrastructure will help prepare for the coming wave of new technology and the reality that we are generating more food data than ever before. Greater access to more technology like NGS at more points in the food system will ensure quality and safety.

Some advancements that we believe will be especially important and impactful over the next year are: the increased disruption of CRISPR/Cas9, the development of new food sources, and efforts like vertical farming that are already challenging existing methods of production and distribution.

Consider the impact that CRISPR-based technologies precipitate for the industry, and the questions we’ll have confront. Do we define CRISPR-engineered foods as GMOs? If so, we’ll need to update our definition since right now, a GMO is defined as taking genetic material from one organism and inserting into another. If not, how do we define the technology in terms that consumers can understand? The food industry as a whole has an opportunity and a responsibility to help convey the benefits and challenges of CRISPR-edited foods to the public, and lead the way in education and understanding.

Likewise, new food sources and production techniques are going to increase speed to market. Technology is helping drive these initiatives. From cellular agriculture to alternative nutrition sources, the food industry must be willing to take charge on proactively addressing the new considerations these products will inevitably create.

How we regulate these foods and even talk about them needs to at the forefront of our conversations over the next year. How are we going to adapt our food systems to accommodate these new sources, and perhaps most importantly, how are we going to ensure the safety and quality across a rapidly changing supply chain?

Distribution changes will also force us to rethink how food makes it to consumers’ tables. 2018 will be an important year of testing, adjusting and implementing these new movements, like vertical farming and other efforts to move food production closer to massive urban populations. An increasingly decentralized and distributed food system will fundamentally change our existing infrastructure.

2018 will be a definitive year for how we begin addressing these changes. As an industry, we must commit to staying vigilant about keeping up with the latest developments. It will be increasingly important to get ahead of the changes and advocate for intelligent regulatory conversations and frameworks.The ability to adapt to new technology and even the messaging and positioning around these advancements, will define the future of food.

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